Take a drive through neighborhoods near the center of Columbia, and you’ll notice most of the houses were built decades ago.
“There’s a lack of housing that’s decent and affordable in the inner city,” said the Rev. William Young, president and CEO of Columbia Enterlight Ministries. “Most of the homes were built before ’75.”
On a mission
Enterlight is on a mission to improve that situation. In 1999, it formed a community development corporation dedicated to reinvigorating the community. Originally, it only helped people find existing homes, but a year and a half ago Enterlight started to build houses for people with low incomes. It has built four homes with help from a $45,000 grant it received in 2001.
“We think of ourselves as one-stop housing,” Young said. “You can come in through the door, get housing counseling, work with the real estate agent, understand the process with the lender and actually find and select the house that you want — the whole process.”
The City Council voted to give Enterlight a second $45,000 grant to complete three new houses. The money comes from the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Columbia received $697,000 from HUD in 2003, said Tom Lata, a community development coordinator for the city. Enterlight is one of several organizations that will receive that money.
“It’s not just a straight grant,” Lata said. “We have an agreement so they know the money will be there, and they can get the construction financing.”
Young said, “We formed ourselves from the very beginning to do the housing, the business development and the training. We helped a lady right across the street, and every time her kids see me they say, ‘Thank you, Rev. Young, for helping my mother buy this house.’”
How it works
Enterlight has helped around 20 clients since its start. Clients must have incomes below 80 percent of the median income, which is $33,250 in Columbia, Young said. Some of Enterlight’s clients have incomes 50 percent below the median income.
Young hands help out
The Columbia Builds Youth program will build one of the homes contracted by Enterlight. The program allows people between 16 and 24 to learn construction skills while earning their general equivalency diplomas. Youth Build programs exist throughout the United States, but this is the first year for the program in Columbia.
“We only tapped into what Enterlight is already doing instead of going to a general contractor,” said Gary Taylor, director of Columbia Builds Youth.
Taylor said the program allows youngsters to rebuild their neighborhoods, teaches them vocational skills and re-engages them in the community.
The participants spend half of their time in the classroom and half on the construction site. Most have dropped out of high school. To be eligible, they must meet minimum income requirements.
Torrey Abbot, 20, graduated from high school but joined Columbia Builds Youth to gain job skills.
“It teaches you to be a team player,” said Abbot, who hopes to work for the Missouri Department of Transportation after the program ends in December.
Of the 16 who started, only seven remain. Abbot said the group has become like a family, and those that quit probably did so because of strict rules. He thinks the skills he is gaining are worth the sacrifices, however. After putting in a full day at Columbia Builds Youth, Abbot goes to a second job at Wal-Mart.
Willie Moore, 17, never liked taking tests but says the program has given him the confidence to get his GED. He plans to stay in construction after finishing the program in December.
“The best part is putting up the frame,” Moore said. “Nailing the boards and seeing the house come together is fun.”
Enterlight’s other housing projects are built by subcontractors. Young said the cost of using Columbia Builds Youth is about the same as using professional construction workers. Enterlight projects focus on improving housing in the core of the city, Lata said. The Columbia Community Development Corp. and Habitat for Humanity also have agreements with the city. Lata said Enterlight is different because it is faith-based, it finds its own clients, and counsels people who move into its homes.
The costs of housing in Columbia continue to rise, Lata said, but the city is trying to find and eliminate barriers to affordable housing.
“I think we have a number of options, but the costs are going up, and it’s hard to keep up,” he said.
To volunteer or for more information about Enterlight, call 442-5951.